Fusco fighting the odds

Last year the Vikings used three different starting centers, all three of whom are on the 2011 roster. If rookie Brandon Fusco is going to make the team, he may need the dice to roll in his favor to work his way up the depth chart and win a precious roster spot.

The life of any late-round NFL rookie is a nerve-wracking one at best during training camp and the preseason. He waits for each cut-down day hoping that a recognizable "952" area code (the one in which Winter Park is located) doesn't come up on his phone. When it does, invariably there is bad news on the other end of the line – often translating to the end of the line for an NFL hopeful.

Take that normal level of trepidation, multiply it by 10, and you have Brandon Fusco's dilemma. Not only does he come to the Vikings from Division II Slippery Rock, he comes to a team that has three veteran players with starting center experience – John Sullivan, Jon Cooper and Ryan Cook. Sullivan would appear to have a roster spot locked and, given his versatility, Cook is more likely than not to have a spot secured. That may leave it up to Cooper and Fusco for one spot – that may or may not be available when the final cuts come down.

Fusco said he's feeling better about his chances now than he did a week ago. He credited much of that to the Vikings implementing their new offense in pieces, which has made the information overload a little less daunting.

"I think that things are progressing pretty well," Fusco said. "I think its getting better each day. We're trying to learn this offense in a hurry and one of the things that has helped is that they installed parts of the offense each day, so it wasn't too overwhelming."

One of the most obvious (and most imposing) obstacles Fusco is facing is the jump in the level of competition. He was able to dominate the middle of the line at the Division II college level, but the NFL is an entirely different monster.

"It's a little more complex than what we had at Slippery Rock," Fusco said. "The biggest challenge is adjusting to the speed at which everything goes here, but I'm getting used to it. I'm feeling more comfortable every day. I'm just trying to learn from these vets and take everything in."

Like many other rookies and first-year free agents, Fusco said the lockout stacked the odds against him. In a typical draft year, Fusco would have been around Winter Park as much as anyone. However, when the lockout took that prospect out of the equation, it has made the process much more frenetic.

"It's been difficult trying to learn the whole system in just two weeks," Fusco said. "A lot of the guys have either played in this system or one close to it, so for those of us who haven't, it's been a much harder process. Not having the OTAs and the minicamps really set us rookies back because, if there hadn't have been a lockout, we would know the offense like the back our hand by now."

Many team observers believe that Fusco may end up being an ideal candidate for the practice squad, but he doesn't see it that way. While he admitted the practice squad would be better than simply being released and trying to find a job elsewhere, he said the practice squad is clearly a Plan B option he doesn't want to consider until he's sure Plan A isn't still in play.

The odds are against him, but Fusco is like the poker player with "a chip and a chair" – as long as he has a chance, he's staying confident that his time will come.

"I'm just pushing as hard as I can because we've been told pretty straightforward that the best 53 players are going to stay," Fusco said. "It doesn't matter if you were drafted or undrafted, we're all equal now and the coaches don't care how they got you. You have to produce if you want to stay and that's what I'm focused on. You have to come our here day in and day out and perform. That's what I'm looking to do."


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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Fusco said he's feeling better about his chances now than he did a week ago. He credited much of that to the Vikings implementing their new offense in pieces, which has made the information overload a little less daunting. \"I think that things are progressing pretty well,\" Fusco said. \"I think its getting better each day. We're trying to learn this offense in a hurry and one of the things that has helped is that they installed parts of the offense each day, so it wasn't too overwhelming.\" One of the most obvious (and most imposing) obstacles Fusco is facing is the jump in the level of competition. He was able to dominate the middle of the line at the Division II college level, but the NFL is an entirely different monster. \"It's a little more complex than what we had at Slippery Rock,\" Fusco said. \"The biggest challenge is adjusting to the speed at which everything goes here, but I'm getting used to it. I'm feeling more comfortable every day. 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